I had the opportunity to drive a BMW 335i coupe and 135i in a three-day span (with a Mitsubishi Lancer in between, to cleanse the palette). It’s a tough decision between them, but for me at least, the 135i is smart choice. True, the smaller car’s weight and performance advantage is negligible (about 200 pounds and 0.2 seconds, respectively, according to BMW), but so too is the difference in practicality — the two-door 3-series offers only 0.4 inches more legroom in front and 1.4 inches in back. The deciding factor is their footprint. The trimmed wheelbase makes the 1-series just a bit livelier, and a bit more intimate, though the 335i’s longer wheelbase might be a bit better balanced. Of course, the $6000 in savings hardly hurts either.
I still wish the 135i were smaller, lighter, and a little sharper, particularly on turn in. It also seems set up to understeer more than one would expect of a small, rear-wheel-drive BMW. But the usable size and comfortable ride are what make it a very serviceable daily driver, and it sure is fast.
– David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
In creating the 1-series, BMW took all the charisma and performance capability of the exceptional 3-series and distilled it into a smaller package. The 135i’s compact size makes its ride a bit more harshly over large road heaves but it also increases the sensation of the car being shrink-wrapped around you, even more so than its brilliant big brother. Like the 3, the engine in the 135i is what makes it a world-class sports car. The 3.0-liter turbo six is exceptionally smooth and provides near instantaneous thrust whenever called upon. But it does seem like overkill in this small car, so if I were looking to buy a 1-series I would probably choose the 128i. It looses 70 horsepower and 100-lb-ft of torque but it’s $5000 cheaper and still provides more than enough power to move this car with authority.
– Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
I’m afraid I don’t echo David’s call for an even smaller 1-series. A lighter, more agile 135i would be enjoyable, but as a broad-shouldered fellow, the current car is about as small as I’d like to go for a daily driver. By the numbers, the 3-series coupe isn’t considerably larger than this, but larger doors, coupled with a different roofline help make all the difference — especially if you’re remotely considering carrying an adult in the rear seats.
Spatial issues aside, I have few qualms with the 135i. The N54 twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline-six is absolutely delightful — it’s smooth, pulls seven ways to Sunday, and delivers a delectable bark when you’re stepping into it. Coupled with the 135i’s slender stature, it makes the car a veritable pocket rocket — but as my colleagues have already noted, the 3-series delivers a similar experience and a tad more practicality.
– Evan McCausland, Web Producer
I initially thought the 1-series would be my favorite BMW. After a year with our Four Seasons car, I’m not so sure I’d want one. I certainly wouldn’t opt for a 135i because the combination of wheelbase, width, and power can be a bit too much for snowy winters. A 128i is more rewarding to drive because you have to work a little bit to match your gear with the conditions and when you do it right, the car is superb. With a 135i, you can be lazy and use almost any gear at any speed.
If the size works for you (personally, I’d rather have a 3-series sedan or wagon for their practicality) there’s no reason not to love the 1-series. This is everything we love about BMWs distilled down to the smallest practical size and cost that still allow for rear-wheel drive, which is one of the most important attributes of a BMW. There’s always the Mini if you like to drive but have even less money or less space.
– Phil Floraday, Senior Web Producer
2010 BMW 135i Coupe
Base price (with destination): $36,675
Price as tested: $38,725
3.0-liter, turbocharged I-6 engine
6-speed manual transmission
Dynamic stability control
Dynamic traction control
4-wheel disc brakes
Heated dual power mirrors/windshield washer jets
Automatic climate control
Rain sensing wipers
Tire pressure monitoring system
AM/FM stereo CD/MP3 player audio system
Auxiliary audio input
Xenon headlights with swivel
Retractable headlight washers
M aerodynamic kit
Options on this vehicle:
M Sport package — $1100
M steering wheel
Shadowliine exterior trim
iPod and USB adapter — $400
Key options not on vehicle:
Cold weather package — $600
Premium package — $3400
Navigation system — $2100
Steptronic automatic transmission — $1375
Fuel economy: 17/25/20 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 3.0L twin-turbocharged inline 6-cylinder
Horsepower: 300 hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 300 lb-ft @ 1400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Curb weight: 3373 lb
18-inch alloy wheels
215/40R18 front; 245/35R18 rear, Bridgestone Potenza